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July 13, 2014 | by  | in Features Online Only |
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Leaving Religion Behind

Once, when I was walking down Cuba St, I was accosted by a preacher who asked me if I was happy with my life. He seemed surprised when I said yes, as if anyone who doesn’t have a religion has some sort of void in them that needs to be filled.

The truth is, I was raised in a very religious town, and considered myself a Christian throughout my formative years. It was only a few years ago that I stopped believing; and really, I’m actually a lot happier now than I ever was back then.

The town I grew up in had seven churches in the town centre alone, most of which were the same denomination. Everyone who had any power in the town had a religious affiliation, and everyone who didn’t go to church was ostracized.

When I first moved there I felt a little out of place, especially because very few people seemed to like my family. We were city-slickers, outsiders, and worse still, my parents weren’t married. Apparently the fact that they had two kids together and had a solid and stable relationship didn’t make up for living in sin.

In an effort to fit in and make friends, I started going to church. I was also curious to see what this “God” thing was all about and why people seemed to love it so much. I was always amazed about how happy people were and how sure that everything in life was going to work out perfectly. Being a natural pessimist, this baffled me. They just never seemed to worry about things. I wanted to be like that.

Even as I started on my journey on the Good Ship Religion, there were doubts; things that didn’t quite sit right with me. I found that people would pick and choose parts of the Bible to believe in. I didn’t like the idea of Hell and how good people would inevitably burn there just for not believing in God. I didn’t like how people could do things that went against their doctrine and then ask for forgiveness, as if being a dick was fine as long as you were a religious dick.

I decided to seek out answers to all the questions I had. I felt that if God actually existed, he wouldn’t mind my asking questions because he would realize that not everyone can believe something without proof. Unfortunately, nobody else seemed to think this way. Answers like “you just have to have faith” and “because the Bible says so” were given to any question I asked, no matter how simple. I began to think that the reason I wasn’t getting any satisfactory answers was because there weren’t any.

At some point, someone told me they were surprised that I was a Christian because I “didn’t act religious”. I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant, but that was the minute I realized that the reason so many things about my religion bothered me was because the Christian doctrine just didn’t fit in with my nature and personality.

Despite all the doubts I had, it’s still hard to pinpoint the moment I stopped actually believing in God. It was a long time coming. After a while, I figured that maybe this God fellow just wasn’t out there at all because if he did exist, he was kind of a jerk. (And why is God always assumed to be male anyway? Should a deity even have a gender?)

Letting go of religion was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. For years it had been a huge part of my identity. It’s a comforting thought, that there’s someone bigger out there who is watching over us. I found it hard to accept that maybe there’s no higher power. Even now, years later, parts of my religion remain: for example, when things get really tough I sometimes find myself praying even though I know it’s a useless exercise.

Without Christianity I feel like I can be myself and make my own decisions without worrying about whether my afterlife will be affected. Religion can be comforting, sure; but it can also be restrictive and unhealthy. Having God in my life didn’t fill any void. If anything, I feel more fulfilled as a person now that I don’t have to worry about being punished for not living by an arbitrary set of rules some guy wrote down thousands of years ago. It was difficult, but ditching religion was by far the best decision I’ve ever made.

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